10 September 2014
Displaced Iraqi Christians who fled from ISIS militants in Mosul pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, on 6 September. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
Editor’s note: Earlier in the summer, we published a letter from Archdeacon Emanuel Yaoukhana, an Iraqi-born priest of the Church of the East, now living in Germany. He recently returned to Iraq and sent the following letter to his friends and acquaintances.
Greetings from Duhok, Iraq.
I would like to share with you the points below, which we heard from the majority of the displaced people we met.
Today there are new realities on the ground in northern Iraq, following the speed with which ISIS took over vast swaths of land — including an area mainly inhabited by non-Muslim indigenous minorities: Christians and Yazidis. Those minorities fear losing their centuries-old culture, faith, livelihood and heritage. The situation of these indigenous people is in real peril if something is not done quickly. They are living with a real fear of extinction and eradication if they are not protected. We believe we need to do that for the following reasons:
They have lost trust in the Iraqi government’s will and capacity to protect them. Iraqi forces left Mosul — or rather surrendered Mosul — and many other areas to ISIS without putting up any fight.
They have lost trust in the K.R.G.’s [Kurdistan Regional Government] capacity to protect them. In some cases the famous Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] escaped without notifying the civilians they were supposed to protect.
They have lost trust in their own neighbors. In the city of Mosul, as well as other cities such as Sinjar and Telkeif, the non-Muslim minorities lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors in peace and tranquility, as long as there was a power that checked the Muslim majority. In the absence of that power, the Muslim neighbors attacked their non-Muslim neighbors — stealing all they can put their hands on just like what happened in the aftermath of the Massacre of Semele [Iraq] in 1933. With the power vacuum that was instigated by the ill-designed policies of the Iraqi government and with the sweeping control of ISIS, it was the neighbors who told ISIS where to find the non-Muslim houses. Victims’ Muslim neighbors served as an incubator to support ISIS terrorists; they not only showed the houses to ISIS, but they also participated in the looting and stealing that ensued.
The perpetuity of these ancient communities becomes, at this point, the responsibility of the world, because they lost all faith in their government and neighbors.
The world has to stop the genocide, displacement and forced migration. That could only be accomplished if we protect these minorities in their own historic lands. We believe this is doable if the world acts on establishing a safe haven area.
It will be good even for those Muslim neighbors, as these thriving minorities will serve as a catalyst to benefit the cultural exchange and coexistence across the Iraqi mosaic.
It will serve as an international example, if marketed wisely to the region and the world. The success of this could serve as a good example of the possibility of different ethnic groups and religions living side by side in peace and harmony.
It will entice the local governments to induce the example into their education systems and eventually to the national level, which will lead to forming laws and regulations where ethnic and religious minorities will not feel they are second-class citizens.
It will prevent further forced migration — and eventually ease the burden on the Western countries who are absorbing these non-Muslim minorities.
It will tell the Muslim majority in Iraq that the persecution of non-Muslims will not be tolerated.
It will force other countries with non-Muslim minorities to be on the watch and treat their non-Muslim minorities fairly.
This is a cry for help, this is an appeal for preservation of an ancient human culture which contributed so immensely to mankind. We hope you will find in your good heart the means and ways to protect these minorities.
Thank you very much.
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana
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Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians